Take to the hills for a ride that’s guaranteed to build up your appetite for the excellent cafés and pubs along the way.
Bridleways, moorland tracks, canal towpaths, country lanes and a particularly long ford … not many routes take in such a rich and sometimes challenging variety of terrains as this tour of the Pendle district.
The first two miles set the tone for the expedition. My cycle computer is in no danger of overheating as I begin pedalling up to Coldwell. If you can complete this ascent without dismounting you’re a lot fitter than I am – and probably have a better bike to boot. I’m relieved to spot a mobile phone mast indicating that, surely, I’m near the top and then the gothic Walton’s Spire. Erected by a Revd Walton in 1835, it stands forbiddingly and crucifix-like on the summit.
After skirting the Lower Coldwell reservoir I leave the road for the start of a scenic and peaceful 4½-mile trek across rugged moorland via the Brontë Way. The ridge of Boulsworth Hill rises above to the right but the views from this relatively low elevation are impressive. To start with the track is a little uneven but easily passable by a touring bike like mine. A short section of surfaced road comes as a welcome and surprise break before the most uneven and toughest stretch of the bridleway. The choice is to wobble your way along the boulders set into the grass (which show the line of the path) or to walk in the ruts alongside them. I choose the latter – and accept that there are times when only a mountain bike will do.
A big wooden bridge over Turnhole Clough heralds the beginning of the end of this section of the route and I soon start the descent to Wycoller. Negotiating bumps is much easier when you’re going down a gentle slope. I stand up out of the saddle and easily maintain some momentum, my flexed legs acting as shock absorbers. The track gets easier as I enter the trees and cycle alongside a clough.
For a man unused to off-road and hills, reaching Wycoller is like coming into the harbour after crossing the high seas. Thankfully, the café I wasn’t sure about does, indeed, exist. I am immediately inside listening to the cheesy strains of ‘If you were the Only Boy in the World’ and tucking into a “farrier’s lunch”. I leave as the CD reaches ‘In the Mood’ – and, refreshed, I am. Before remounting for part two of the ride I enjoy a wander around the ancient bridges (preserved because of the village’s remoteness) and ruins of the 16th century Wycoller Hall. Charlotte Brontë lived nearby and is thought to have frequently visited the village. The hall – which fell into disrepair about a century ago – is believed by some to be Ferndean Manor in her novel Jane Eyre. Its unrestored condition (apart from a huge fireplace) makes it all the more evocative and ideal for looking around if you’re pushing a bike! The riverbank is a perfect picnic spot – and don’t miss the fine collection of old milk bottles in the historic Aisled Barn visitor centre.
I complete the descent to the bottom of the Colne Water valley and then begin gradually winding my way up its northern flanks. A sign warns of a road ‘unsuitable for motors’. I’ll say: water immerses the carriageway for a good 100 yards. If you’re here after a wet spell then pack an inflatable dinghy in your pannier.
I dive down into Foulridge and then start the serious business of the ascent of White Moor. During many pauses for breath I look back over my shoulder at Whitemoor reservoir which I’ve just passed and three others nearby, all of which were built to feed the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. To the left my eye is drawn to the folly of Stansfield Tower sitting on the top what’s believed to be an ancient tumulus. The tower was built by a local grocer who wanted to be able to show his friends the construction of Blackpool Tower but sadly Pendle Hill got in the way. Against steely skies, the tower looks suitably spooky given that Pendle is best known for witchcraft.
The route down to Barnoldswick lies down another bridleway. The surface is rutted and it makes for a somewhat bouncy ride. Just as I’m again regretting not having a mountain bike I reach the town. I’m running a little short of time so don’t have time to explore it fully but feel obliged to quickly investigate the purpose of the giant chimney that has been beckoning me across the moors. Standing 135ft tall, it belongs to a steam-powered weaving shed operational until 1920 and forms part of the Stream and Steam heritage trail. Shortly before Salterforth I drop down to the canal. The waterway has a sharp bend here and, to avoid boats being tugged into the side, tow line rollers were installed on the bank, some of which you can still see close to the bridge.
Whatever the appeal (or not) of hills, the perfectly flat and smooth towpath provides a welcome contrast to what’s gone before. For me this route saves the best until last. On the far canal bank I spot a Tardis which is about as surreal as the figures of Laurel and Hardy fishing which I’d seen earlier beside a garden pond at the top of White Moor. A sign in the canal bank marking the border between Yorkshire and Lancashire is a reminder of how significant highways like this once were. In days past Foulridge Wharf partly fulfilled the role of service station I suppose and I take advantage of a warehouse that’s now a café. Beside the wharf is the entrance to the mile-long Foulridge tunnel. Five years in construction, it has no towpath so horse-drawn barges used to be legged through by boatmen lying on the bow deck walking along the tunnel walls.
My own legs tiring and weary of way-finding, I tuck away my map for the last time and put blind faith into the National Cycle Network signs. They lead me reliably via all sorts of interesting twists and turns around the canal tunnel, back to the towpath, past picturesque Barrowford Lock, under the motorway and finally through the back streets of Colne to the start.
I’d wanted an epic ride and, boy, I certainly got one. My overall average speed figure would’ve outstripped a barge – but only just.
Alternative easy rider
The canal towpath between Barnoldswick and Barrowford Reservoir (west of Colne) lends itself very well to an easy family bike ride with a stop at Café Cargo (see below). The return trip is 11 miles and follows the signed, mainly off-road Route 68 of the National Cycle Network. Park in Barnoldswick at Victory Park off West Close Rd. Join the towpath where the canal passes under the Skipton Rd then continue south to Foulridge Wharf. From this point follow the directions, as below, as far as the reservoir.
Distance: 27 miles.
Time: A full day.
Start at either Colne railway station or the car park of the adjacent leisure centre. Cross the main road (A56) and proceed up Bridge St signed to Coldwell Activity Centre. At a crossroads at the top of the hill continue ahead and down to pass the centre and go around the first reservoir.
Turn left to leave the road and join the Pennine Bridleway. Just after a farmhouse the track is surfaced for a few hundred yards. Where this road bears sharp left to Trawden (signed) continue ahead on the bridleway. Keep following the signs for Wycoller which take you over a bridge and finally, via a left turn and Smithy Clough, to Wycoller.
Leave the village by the only road. Turn right at a t-junction in front of a football pitch then right again soon after signed for National Cycle Network Route 91. At the end of the descent in Laneshawbridge turn left over an old stone bridge and briefly uphill to meet the A6068. Cross over and continue almost ahead to the left of the Emmott Arms signed Lancashire Cycleway.
At the top of the hill bear left towards and past The Alma Inn. Turn left (off the Skipton Old Rd) just before a ‘Caution – concealed entrance’ sign. Almost immediately and as the road bears left continue ahead at the sign: ‘Ford ½ mile. Road unsuitable for motors’.
Take the first left into Foulridge, reaching the main road at The Hare and Hounds pub. Turn right then second left in front of the war memorial down Lowther Lane. At the bottom turn left onto Barnoldswick Rd to leave Foulridge. Where the road bears sharp right continue ahead signed ‘Blacko 2’ keeping the reservoir embankment to your right. About 300 yards after the Whitemoor Riding Centre turn right signed to a dead end.
About 100 yards after Peel House Farm turn right through a gate onto a signed public bridleway. At the end turn left then immediately right up Hodge Lane signed ‘Private Road. Public bridleway only’. This brings you out onto the B6383. Turn right and, after 300 yards at a bridge, descend steps to the canal towpath (also National Cycle Network Route 68).
Immediately after Foulridge Wharf follow the road (Warehouse Lane) uphill, turn right the crossroads then left down Reedymore Lane to again pick up signs for Route 68 to Colne. Just after the Lake Burwain sailing club keep following the route as it forks right and off-road. At the end of the track turn right at the road then immediately left (don’t cross the bridge) to continue in the same direction. Rejoin the canal towpath, pass under the motorway then turn left to leave the canal and keep following signs for Route 68 back to the start.
Map: here. Download booklet then use map on p11. For more detail of the end of the route see http://www.bit.ly/eKgzn9. (The route skirts Barrowford Reservoir then goes east along the purple route to Colne leisure centre).
An excellent choice including:
Coldwell Activity Centre Tea Room, beside Coldwell Reservoirs. 01282 601819. Open Wed-Sun 9am-3pm. Includes children’s play area and tables outside.
Wycoller Craft Centre & Tearooms, Wycoller. 01282 868395. Cosy traditional tea room with courtyard for eating outside. Open every day except Mon (excluding Bank Holidays) 11am-approx 5.30pm and Fridays 12 noon-5.30pm.
The Alma Inn, Laneshawbridge. 01252 857030 and thealmainn.com. Smart, recently refurbished early 18th century coaching inn with tables outside.
The Anchor, Salterforth. 01282 813186. Grade II-listed inn with beer garden, children’s play area – and stalactites and stalagmites in the cellar!
Café Cargo, Foulridge Wharf. 01282 865069 and cafecargo.com. Open every day 8am-11pm. Chic but friendly café (during the day) and bistro (evenings). Converted last year from a disused early 19th century warehouse on the wharf. Fanastic canalside location.